Letter #19: To Benjamin Robert Haydon, 10/11 May 1817

One can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Leigh Hunt when reading this letter to Haydon–the very day after Keats sent a friendly letter to Hunt, here he is in the letter to Haydon saying some pretty nasty things about Hunt! It’s Keats at his meanest and gossipyist. Hey, we never said Keats was perfect. However, as Michael Theune points out in his ambitious response for today, Keats does show remarkable self-awareness about his own meanness, his tendency toward a “horrid Morbidity of Temperament.” Theune also makes a compelling argument linking Keats’s negativity here with his more famous negative capability, the letter for which we’re all counting down the months and days until this December! We may be a bit partial since Theune is one of the KLP founders, but we find his response to be quite illuminating. We hope you will too!

On a more somber note, it’s worth pointing out that contrary to Keats’s wish at the beginning of the letter (“I pray God that our brazen Tombs be nigh neighbors”), they’re actually about a thousand miles apart. When Haydon received the letter in 1817, he underlined the phrase and wrote a note above it, “I wonder if they will be.” In November 1845 when Haydon copied the letter to send to Richard Monckton Milnes, he slightly changed the note, reading instead “Perhaps they may be.” On 28 May 1846, Haydon sent along to Milnes the original of the letter as well. And just over three weeks later, on 22 June, Haydon took his own life. Alas, his brazen tomb is in London, at the Church of St. Mary in Paddington. The gravestone has seen better days, the cemetery is not nearly as lovely as the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, and fame may not exactly be registered on the tomb. But Haydon and Keats nonetheless remain linked together as “heirs of all eternity.” Or at least some of eternity.

The MS images come from Harvard’s collection, and the 1883 Forman edition offers a good printed text.



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